The rollout of the recreational marijuana industry in Massachusetts has been slow. And it has barely begun for two important sectors: minority entrepreneurs and residents of neighborhoods that have been disproportionately hurt by the war on drugs.
Take Mattapan, for example, on the southern end of Boston. More than 90 percent of the neighborhood's residents are nonwhite. Three-quarters are black. The state says Mattapan residents were disproportionately arrested for possessing and selling pot when it was illegal.
"We have thousands of young people from this neighborhood and neighborhoods across the city who look like me who went to jail over this," says former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson.
He says that's one reason he wants to open a marijuana dispensary in Mattapan Square.
Jackson is awaiting approval for the dispensary from the city and the state. If he gets approved, he'll be a rarity. So far, the state's Cannabis Control Commission has given provisional licenses to only two businesses that reported they're owned by minorities. That's out of a total of 118 licenses for marijuana businesses.
The commission reports the vast majority of people who have completed applications for recreational dispensaries are white. It's looking at ways to supplement its equity programs, including no-interest state loans and a more streamlined application process.
Jackson ran for mayor in the city's last election. Now he's CEO of a cannabis company, Verdant Medical — not your typical career change.
"The biggest reconciliation I had to have was with my mother," Jackson reflects. "I also realize that there are individuals who are against cannabis as a whole. And we heard from some individuals, and I get that."
He is also looking to open marijuana shops in Provincetown and Rowley, as well as a facility to grow cannabis in Rowley. Jackson has reached host community agreements with those communities but is still awaiting a decision by the state.